Lyette Fortin to Mayor Jim Watson and Ottawa City Councillors: Rescind the Heritage Permit

Rendering: Larco Investments

Wednesday, July 24, 2019


The following letter of concern for the Château Laurier addition was sent to Mayor Jim Watson and Ottawa City Councillors by conservation architect Lyette Fortin.

July 7, 2019

Dear Mayor and City Councillors,

Subject: Château Laurier – Why You Should Rescind the Conditional Heritage Permit

I am writing to you to urge you to vote on July 10th to rescind the conditional Heritage Permit, issued in June of 2018 for the Château Laurier addition.

The reasons why the heritage permit should be rescinded is because the proposed addition does not meet Standard 11 of the “Standards and Guidelines for the Conservation of Historic Places in Canada” and does not fulfill the three conditions of approval for the Heritage Permit.

This assessment is based on my 37 years professional career working in Conservation: first as a Conservation Architect with the federal government managing and overseeing renovation projects on National Historic Sites across Canada ensuring heritage policies, standards and guidelines are met; then with the National Capital Commission as the Chief Project Manager responsible for the safeguard of the heritage characteristics of Canada’s Official Residences; then for the House of Commons of Canada as Director of Architectural Strategic Planning overseeing the development of the Long Term Vision and Plan for the Parliamentary and Judicial Precincts ensuring that solid principles are adopted for the conservation of the buildings’ and setting’s heritage values throughout its implementation; and most recently, as Instructor at Carleton University, Azrieli School of Architecture and Urbanism, teaching architectural conservation, philosophy, ethics and practice.

In my extensive experience, I have reviewed and given professional advice on hundreds of projects for National Historic Sites where CONTEMPORARY interventions were proposed. As well, I have been involved in crafting standards, guidelines, principles and code of practice for the conservation of designated heritage properties. Therefore, it is with professional conviction, that I can say that Standard 11 has not been met, as was conveyed to you by prominent authoritative experts in the field such a Dr. Christina Cameron and Dr. Phyllis Lambert.

Standard 11 states:
a) conserve the heritage value and character defining elements when creating any new addition to an historic place or any related new construction.
b) make the new work physically and visually compatible with, subordinate to, and distinguishable from the historic place.

The proposed addition does not address points a) and b) for the following reasons:

a) The heritage value and character defining elements resides not only with the building itself but also in the relationship the building has with the land, the river and the sky. There is a visible dialogue between the existing building and the context. The “Château Style” architecture complements the vertical trust of the Neo-Gothic Parliament Buildings and of the natural escarpment along the Ottawa river and the Rideau Canal. Its angled roofs and animated silhouette add to the upward movement towards the sky and enrich the vibrant skyline. The Château Laurier is seen as a pavilion in a picturesque setting from various viewpoints: from the Québec shore of the Ottawa river, from the Canadian Museum of History, from Parliament Hill, from the National Gallery of Canada, from Major Hill’s Park from the Rideau Canal, from Confederation Boulevard, from Confederation Square, from the National Art Center, from the Byward Market, from properties along the streets that border the Château Laurier. These views form part the heritage values. The proposed addition does not conserve the picturesque qualities, nor does it enhance the character defining elements. It does not embellish our built environment. The addition, as proposed has an atrocious negative impact on the building, the landscape, the views and the setting.

b) The proposed addition is not physically and visually compatible with the building nor its nationally significant setting. The form, the shape and the architectural vocabulary are totally disconnected from the existing building and setting. The addition may be an interesting contemporary modern architectural expression, but it does not fit on the site of the Château Laurier. It belongs to an urban commercial setting with a streetscape of predominantly rectangular shaped buildings.

Three elements were made additional conditions of approval of the Heritage Permit. These are:

a) Meaningfully increasing the use of Indiana limestone cladding on the building exterior to reduce its contrast and enhance its bond with the existing building;
b) Modifying the addition by sculpting, recessing, and breaking up the unrelieved uniformity of the north façade using elements and forms that are specifically drawn from, and relate to, the existing Château Laurier’s rich palette of forms;
c) Altering the architectural expression on the north, west and east façades to introduce fenestration patterns, details and geometric proportions that are specifically drawn from, and relate to, the existing Château Laurier elements.

On the three conditions, I contend that these have not been met in the proposed addition:
a) Perhaps the use of limestone has been increased but the boxy shape and the way in which the cladding has been expressed actually increases the contrast and does little to enhance the bond of the addition with the existing building. The addition does not harmonise with the Château Laurier.
b) Perhaps some micro detail adjustments have been made to bring some minor relief in the north façade, but the proposed addition has no meaningful sculpting, recessing, and breaking up of the north façade using elements and forms that are specifically drawn from, and relate to, the existing Château Laurier’s rich palette of forms. The long north façade, lacking any multi-plane relief creates an urban wall, a physical barrier between the Château Laurier and Major Hill’s Park. The north façade forms a visual barricade blocking significant viewpoints; it creates a border wall to the neighbouring romantic setting. The proposed addition remains a boxy annex that is totally alien to the existing architecture’s dynamic forms, its various planes and angles, and animated silhouette. The addition’s architectural vocabulary does not belong exclusively to the Château Laurier. This addition could sit by itself in a commercial urban block context dominated by rectilinear buildings.
c) The addition’s architectural expression and fenestration pattern bear no relation to the existing building nor does it convey that this is a distinctive hotel in a distinctive setting. There have been minor attempts to suggest some relationships with the existing building, but these are so far-fetched that one has difficulty imagining that the addition’s design was actually inspired by the characteristics of the Château Style.

National Historic Sites are valued by the citizens. The City of Ottawa has, as part of its process, conducted public consultations. However, it seems that the many relevant comments and concerns expressed by the public were not taken into consideration. The design submissions since 2016 have been but variations, iterations on the same boxy theme. It is paramount to consider the importance of the place to its community. Yes, the property is privately owned but ownership comes not only with a right but is also comes with civic responsibility towards its neighbours, its community. “Noblesse oblige.”

As part of the conservation course at the School of Architecture, we analyse international and national examples of CONTEMPORARY additions to heritage properties. Sadly enough, since 2016, the Château Laurier proposed addition has been brought up, year after year, by students, as an example of a design that does not meet Standard 11 and as an example of what not to do to a heritage property. Students arethought to understand the history of a place, the characteristics of the existing building, the setting, the urban context, the significance of the building to the community. Through this understanding they develop thoughtful CONTEMPORARY architectural designs. As part of a design studio in the Fall of 2018, students developed design proposals for a CONTEMPORARY addition to the Château Laurier. Their creative, innovative, meaningful, respectful architectural designs demonstrate that an appropriate compatible CONTEMPORARY solution can be designed; one that adds value to the nationally significant place and setting and one that architecturally enriches the heart of Canada’s Capital.

Your vote on July 10th is crucial. Your decision not to rescind the Heritage Permit will have the everlasting consequence of the disfigurement a most significant place and setting in Canada. Do you want this to be your legacy?

Respectfully submitted,

Lyette Fortin B.Arch, D.ICCROM, Hon.OAA
Consultant in Architectural Conservation
Instructor, Azrieli School of Architecture and Urbanism, Carleton University
Member of the Advisory Group on the development of an Architecture Policy for Canada
Member of the Friends of the Château Laurier



Contact the Mayor and Ottawa City Councillors before July 10, 2019.

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